BSA Publishes 2011 Software Piracy Study

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I haven’t read through the entire Business Software Alliance piracy study just yet (busy day), so if I find some interesting details later on, I’ll throw another post out there on the subject. For now, a quick peek at the summary. I’ll try to be nice; in the past, I’ve been rather critical of the methodology used by the BSA and other industry groups that deal with intellectual property infringement.

Here are the headlines:

  • The global piracy rate for PC software hovers at 42 percent. [Considering how easy pirated software is to find, download and install, this seems to be a pretty good number.]
  • The commercial value of this shadow market of pirated software climbed from $58.8 billion in 2010 to $63.4 billion in 2011, a new record, propelled by PC shipments to emerging economies where piracy rates are highest. [If they’re still using retail prices to calculate “commercial value,” then I’ll continue to refer to this figure as bullshit.]
  • The gap in spending on legal software in emerging and mature economies is stubbornly persistent. China, for example, spends less than a quarter of the amount that Russia, India, and Brazil spend on a per-PC basis — and just 7 percent of the amount the United States spends.
  • Users who say they pirate the most software are disproportionately young and male — and they install more software of all types on their computers than other users do. [This may just be my cynicism talking here, but that’s the same demographic that is most likely to know where to get pirated copies and understand how to download and install the apps. Kind of makes you wonder how high that number would be if older folks knew how to navigate the web and their PCs a little better.]
  • Business decision makers admit to pirating software more frequently than other computer users do. [Sure. When you’re staring at multiple license fees, that can eat up budgets quickly.]
  • Public opinion continues to support intellectual property (IP) rights: Seven PC users in 10 support paying innovators to promote more technological advances. [Worthless stat. What are they going to say?]

And here are BSA’s policy suggestions:

  • Increase public education and raise awareness about software piracy and IP rights in cooperation with industry and law enforcement. [Utterly worthless. I’ve said this a million times. Only technological innovation or tough enforcement will fix the problem.]
  • Modernize protections for software and other copyrighted materials to keep pace with new innovations such as cloud computing and the proliferation of networked mobile devices. [Even better: move to a system of cloud-based apps.]
  • Strengthen enforcement of IP laws with dedicated resources, including specialized enforcement units, training for law enforcement and judiciary officials, improved cross-border cooperation among law enforcement agencies, and fulfillment of obligations under the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). [No arguments with that, although trying to prove a TRIPs case is easier said than done.]
  • Lead by example by using only fully licensed software, implementing software asset management (SAM) programs, and promoting the use of legal software in state-owned enterprises, and among all contractors and suppliers. [Strongly agree with this. In China, much progress has been made with respect to government procurement, but backsliding has occurred. Industry needs to keep the pressure on with this issue.]

FYI, the country numbers published by BSA aren’t good for China, although this is no surprise. In terms of piracy rates, China wound up at 77% (which is actually much lower than it used to be). Only Indonesia (86%) and Venezuela (88%) were higher, with Thailand at a close 72%. The top three “good guys” were the United States (19%), Japan (21%) and Australia (23%).

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3 responses on “BSA Publishes 2011 Software Piracy Study

  1. Quigley

    BSA’s numbers for China are quite interesting. Piracy rates for software in the last 5 years are reported as 2007-82%; 2008- 80%; 2009- 79%; 2010 – 78%; and 2011 – 77% (p.8 of study). So I’m not sure that these numbers for China are “much lower” than it used to be (as you state above), but the numbers are lower enough to make it seem like there has been some improvement, irrespective of what is actually happening. I’m willing to wager that the 5% “improvement” between 2007 and 2011 is within the margin of error of the study.

    To be fair I have not had time to examine the methodology in detail that BSA lauds as “a rigorous and well-designed effort.” But for pretty much all countries included in the survey there does not seem to be more than a 1% change in software piracy rates per year. Doesn’t it seem likely that if there is a change in regulation in a country, for example, perhaps requiring new software preloaded on a computer to be authentic the percentage of pirated software could change significantly, well at least more than 1% per year. Or even the increasing use of Apple computers, doesn’t that make pirated software much less likely?

    One of the better Economist articles (still available from free) titled: BSA or just BS? Software theft is bad; so is misstating the evidence describes problems with the 2005 version of the BSA study.
    http://www.economist.com/node/3993427 I think that many of the problems with the important work of BSA have still not been addressed.

    BSA claims that they worked closely with two of the leading independent research firms – IDC and Ipsos Public Affairs. I don’t know anything about either of these firms, but even a preliminary read of the study raises questions regarding their reported findings. I am willing to take a wild guess that reported software piracy rates for China in 2012 will be 76%. Another year of improvement. Fantastic.

    1. Stan Post author

      I was thinking in terms of the past decade or so, not since 2007. I think the piracy rate here used to be over 90% (or so the BSA claimed). As a whole, I’ve never really trusted their numbers all that much. The BSA is a lobbying organization that benefits by painting a negative picture. There might be some value in following the piracy rate numbers they publish, though, if a clear trend is shown, and particularly so if that trend is a downward one. Even if their methodology sucks, a clear trend may actually mean something.